Students and Veterans remember Vimy Ridge

ADAM JACKSON/Ponoka News

It may have been 94 years ago, but Ponoka residents – young and old – won’t be forgetting the battle of Vimy Ridge any time soon.

The significance showed on April 12 with a nearly packed house at the Royal Canadian Legion in Ponoka to honour those fallen at Vimy Ridge, an important Canadian battle during the Great War.

The crowd was pleased to hear two locals speak about discovering that a relative of theirs was the famous Unknown Soldier, an important figure of Canadian history.

Donna McLaren and her late husband’s cousin, Al McLaren, were in attendance and told the crowd of about 50 their story about how they discovered that they were relatives of the Unknown Soldier – Pte. Thomas Lawless.

Pte. Lawless was a second cousin of Al McLaren.

The remains, which were discovered on the battlefield at Vimy Ridge in 2003 by French construction workers, was first narrowed down to 16 possibilities then, through specialized DNA testing, they were able to conclude that the remains were indeed Pte. Thomas Lawless – Al McLaren’s second cousin.

Although there is not much information available on Pte. Lawless, researchers from Lakehead University speculate that since the remains were found with the remains of another soldier beyond enemy lines, that Pte. Lawless was either injured and was being carried or was carrying a fallen comrade.

The discovery, which was just recently revealed, has made headlines all over Canada. It has also helped to connect the McLaren family with long-lost relatives in Ireland.

After telling their story, the pair was part of a wreath ceremony followed by a moment of silence at a cenotaph in the hall.

Another special addition to the memorial was a group of PCHS students accompanied by teacher Rob Labrie.

The group, who had just returned from a history-related trip to Europe were unable to visit Vimy Ridge this year, but still had a very interesting story to tell the crowd.

They had been researching documentation from soldiers who died on the battlefields they planned on visiting and decided to find the site of Lance Corporal Robert Kay’s death in Italy.

With the help of a battlefield diary obtained from Labrie’s uncle, the group was able to find the area and was greeted joyously by an Italian historian who showed them to a Canadian Memorial that no Canadian – aside from them – has ever seen.

“It was so nice to see that they recognize what our boys did for them,” said Hannah Barrett, a student who went on the trip.

The group has also been in contact with Robert Kay’s sister, who lives in Ponoka and will be presenting her with photos of the battlefield as well as a grave rub of Kay’s gravestone.

The students, who took turns speaking to the audience about their experience, were thankful of Labrie for the eye opening experience. Many of the students said that they feel closer to the fallen soldiers they studied.

“It’s not a name or number anymore. You know them,” said student Kiara Kjenner, “It’s just hard to explain.”